Recently I watched the film Mountain, which explores the spellbinding forces that high places have on us, and was reminded again of the sheer power that nature has. We often delude ourselves into thinking that we are in control, but actually to mountains we are just the pawns on a chessboard.
First of all I would like to express my personal thanks to Robert McFarlane for his words. I was deeply moved by them, hence this blog post, and all of the quotes below are from his script for the film. He is mainly an author however, and has written many books, Mountains of the Mind being one of them, but he has also written books such as The Lost Words which stands against the disappearance of wild childhood.
The film raises some interesting points about the history of mountains. As early as three centuries ago, climbing mountains was seen as an “act of lunacy”. There was enough hardship present in everyday life, people didn’t feel the need to seek more. As life has become more comfortable for us, however, it seems we have felt the need to replace this hardship and seek out danger elsewhere. And as the mountains have slowly entered the popular imagination, their strange force has taken to hold us spellbound.
The mountains we climb are not only made of rock and ice but also dreams and desire. The mountains we climb are mountains of the mind.
Throughout all of this time, humans have always considered themselves to be in control, always one step ahead of other animals or beings. As technology as improved, this feeling has only been amplified.
This search for the sublime drew us outwards and upwards. The great peaks of the world began to exert a force upon the imagination, a siren song that was easy to hear, hard to resist, and sometimes fatal.
The adrenaline rush that we get from mountains revitalises and empowers us. Standing on top of a peak you feel invincible, above everything else both literally and mentally. All of the hustle and bustle of everyday life disappears and a strange calmness and completeness falls over you. You start to look at everything from a new perspective, like the miraculously clear vision you have after putting on a new pair of prescription glasses.
Whenever I get stressed I always seek refuge in the mountains when I can. At the end of a very full-on year two years ago, it took a month of hiking the Kings Trail in the north of Sweden to recover to my normal calm and clear state. These last 6 months I have been lucky enough to live in the north of Slovakia, with the High Tatras at my doorstep. It’s been great climbing the snowy peaks and being able to refresh my mind nearly every weekend.
With this new detailed vision we feel we are put back in control of our life, but we should remember that while we may be invincible in the mind, in reality we are not.
The more you experience this feeling, the more normal it becomes. You start wanting more. Needing more. You constantly take your adventures up to the next level, and increase the stakes. It becomes a kind of addiction. Taking everything to the extremes. Testing your limits.
At height you can be taken right to the brink, you never feel so alive knowing that at any minute you could die.
This heightened sensation wakes up every cell of our body, sparks up our imagination and gets the creative juices flowing. Nature is so powerful it can do all of this to us, and we are crazy to shut it out like we do.
Coming back to earth from the high peaks you can feel like a stranger burying experiences that are beyond expression and beyond price.
But while nature can heal us, it can also break us. Nothing is as crushing as watching an avalanche descend upon you, watching a wave towering above you. We can never be in control of nature and we should stop before we even try to be. While it can play ball from time to time, it will always win. I have had several very near misses myself, so I also know this from personal experience.
Yet if we leave out this “need” to be in control and just accept nature to be what it is and respect it, we can learn and benefit so much from it. Not just personally either, but all together as one community. As we all tumble head first down the rabbit hole of civilisation with world changing consequences such as global warming, maybe we should all take a step back and listen.
Mountains don’t seek our love or seek our deaths. They want nothing from us. And yet they shift the way we see ourselves, they weather our spirits, challenge our arrogance, restore our wonder.
More than ever we need their wildness.
I highly recommend watching the film, Mountain. It is possible to watch in many cinemas in the UK and also available online. If you do I would love to hear your thoughts! Feel free to leave a comment below or send us a message using our contact form.